Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone debates involving the Department for Education during the 2017-2019 Parliament

Vocational Education and Training

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Excerpts
Monday 28th October 2019

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Portrait Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Con)
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My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend on securing this important and timely debate. The future success of the UK depends on developing and sustaining a competitive, highly skilled, knowledge-based economy. This is clearly recognised in the industrial strategy, pioneered by the former Prime Minister and the former Business Secretary, Greg Clark.

In spite of our reassuringly high levels of employment, it is concerning that the latest OECD figures report a serious productivity gap between the UK and other advanced western economies. The House will be aware that in terms of GDP per hour worked, the UK was 22.6% behind the US, 22.8% behind France and 26.2% behind Germany. Helping young people develop the skills they need to do highly paid and highly skilled jobs is a key part of addressing this challenge.

It is well accepted in this House in particular that our academic education is highly acclaimed; it is a remarkable achievement, as Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said last week, that we have now reached the 50% mark of young people going on to university. In the QS World University Rankings 2020, British universities make up four of the global top 10. However, we have in no way reached that equivalent standard in providing technical education. This goes right back to the Education Act 1944. We have come and gone, stopped and started, but never really secured this prize. It is fascinating to me personally because my great-grandfather was the secretary and educational adviser to the Technical Education Board in 1893, working with the Webbs on setting up technical institutes all across London. His son, my grandfather, when 32 and a senior wrangler, became principal of Manchester College of Technology, which he led for eight years. This was all of course before the 1944 Education Act.

The time has now come for us not to have new initiatives and advisers but to be steadfast and tenacious. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Baker mentioned the real and unequivocal commitment of the current Secretary of State to take vocational education seriously. Real progress is under way. The last Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, was a staunch and steadfast believer in vocational education. I commend also Anne Milton, who did a huge amount to promote vocational education and careers guidance. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, has a preoccupation with careers guidance; as he said in his maiden speech, careers education is,

“the bridge from education to employment”,—[Official Report, 26/11/09; cols. 505-06.]

and I think we would all agree.

The introduction of T-levels, which will be rolled out over the coming years, is a great step forward, framing advanced technical education as an alternative to the academic path but equal in value and esteem. There is the challenge. Informed by the models in other countries such as Norway and the Netherlands—the noble Lord, Lord Storey, referred to Switzerland, which I was also going to mention—at least we are learning from the evidence of others. The courses will offer longer teaching hours, higher standards and meaningful education placements, enabling students to strive for excellence within these disciplines. I would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate further on how the Government plan to deliver these substantial reforms in a managed way across the country.

The other person who deserves great celebration is the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who set up the Independent Panel on Technical Education and has been involved in the development of the Gatsby criteria for careers guidance.

I particularly wanted to move on to praise my noble friend Lord Baker and provide evidence from a flourishing aspect of my life in Hull. For many years I was a Member of Parliament in a prosperous part of the country but, as many will know, for the last 14 years my preoccupation has been the well-being, employment and prosperity of the Humber and Hull. The Ron Dearing UTC there is the most remarkable success. I have been talking to Sarah Pashley, the principal, and what is being achieved is quite remarkable. Students have a longer day, as my noble friend is suggesting: a 40-hour week, 9.15 am to 5.15 pm. It is in its third year, and it will more than meet its targets regarding admissions, but of course the crucial fact—this goes back to the Baker clause—is that the college and the curriculum are employer-led. Smith & Nephew—I declare an interest as a board member, and as chancellor of Hull—KCOM, Reckitt Benckiser, Siemens, the Spencer Group, whose chairman is the chairman of the governors, and the University of Hull: all are actively engaged, and they design and deliver the curriculum in collaboration with the academic staff.

Students learn in lessons on real projects, and student behaviour is exemplary. The college is open plan; it looks and feels like a business environment, not a school. Students and teachers are on first-name terms, and appropriate professional behaviour is expected and received. The students are given responsibility. There are laptop labs where students help themselves; there is no theft to mention. I remind the House that Hull is not an area with low crime levels; it has a lot of difficulty in employment and the economy. Students are employed as IT technicians. The focus is not on STEM but on STEAM. The college believes that science, technology, engineering and maths are extraordinary important but that so are the arts, and that creativity and design are integral to our competitiveness. I applaud and admire it.

The senior engineering director in advanced manufacturing at Smith & Nephew’s wound care division sits on the UTC board. He is passionate about it and believes that it is unique. There is strong local business investment and involvement and the business leaders provide time and resources. This is a great initiative, and not common at all around the world. The curriculum is not just intended to get someone a job but is much broader, developing the whole person—and this is only the beginning. What is so exciting is that this is a plan which has delivered in practice. Even cynics and people on the margins believe that there is change to be had.

I hope that the House will agree that we need to make up for lost time since 1944. We have achieved massively in higher education. Now is the time, particularly with our new position in relation to Europe and the world, for us to invest in people so that they can have rewarding, skilled technical and vocational courses which are just as important as theoretical or academic courses and careers.

Young People

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Excerpts
Thursday 13th December 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Portrait Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Con)
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My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on introducing this debate. She has created an appalling dilemma for us all, because there are so many points to which each of us wants to respond—particularly as I find myself in agreement with a huge number of her points. It is a paradox that, at a time of greater prosperity, physical health and opportunity, we have young people who are anxious and uncertain. Maybe that is partly because we live in a time of such change.

Before moving on to more substantive matters, I want to comment on the wretched fetish of social media, to which so many young people are addicted. It feeds them false facts and a false reality, but they are obsessed with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or Facebook—I cannot remember them all. It portrays all their friends as having a deliriously happy time while they are the only ones feeling lonely and isolated. It encourages them to compare themselves with their peers and causes problems around body image. The situation is extraordinarily serious: it causes bullying and much else besides. It is enormously important for us to do all that we can to create shared opportunities and purposeful activities in settings where young people feel part of a larger whole. Dangerous material can also come through on social media, and the NSPCC’s Wild West Web campaign tackles the sexually inappropriate and violent material that young people see.

The noble Baroness mentioned Dame Martina Milburn of the Prince’s Trust, who has now gone on to chair the Social Mobility Foundation. Dame Martina said:

“The single most important thing we can do to empower these young people is to help them into a job, an education course or on to a training programme”.

On all these counts, the Government deserve credit. Despite all the problems, it is the case that youth unemployment in the UK is at 11.5%. In France it is almost double that, at 20%; in Italy it is 30%; in Greece it is 43%; and the EU average is 15.1%. Whatever one thinks about the types of jobs or zero-hours contracts, they are an opportunity for meaningful activity, and the Government deserve credit.

It was Disraeli who wisely commented:

“Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends”.

The House will know that the Government have been relentless in their attack on inadequate schools. I know only too well, from my work in Camberwell, Brixton and Peckham, long ago in the 1970s and 1980s, about the inadequate education and the lack of expectations and rigour. Through UTCs, free schools and academies, the Government have been determined to raise standards. The Minister himself is a wonderful exemplar, as chairman of the Inspiration Trust, which has 14 academy schools in East Anglia. Will he tell me how many children previously in a failing local authority school are now in academies rated good or outstanding?

Only last week, at Battersea power station, the Secretary of State talked about the key need for skills. Further education and technical paths must be of equal esteem and effectiveness to revered universities. The CBI estimates that the greatest growth in jobs will be in management, professional and technical roles, all of which will require specialist skills that higher technical training courses could provide. This is an issue that unites the House, but we have to make real progress.

I move now to young people’s mental health, which the noble Baroness also mentioned. The increase in the figures is, I am sure, in part because people feel alienated and confused. We live in a diverse society, but in some ways that creates greater anxiety. David Goodhart’s book is about “anywhere” and “somewhere”, and the “somewhere” model gives more people a sense of space and belonging.

It has become more acceptable to talk about mental health problems, and I pay tribute to celebrities such as Jo Brand and Stephen Fry who have made mental illness an acceptable form of distress that can be discussed. I pay special tribute to the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. Charlie Waller took his own life in 1997. His parents, Mark and Rachel Waller, set up a pioneering charity which has been an exemplar for best practice by equipping young people to look after their mental well-being, helping people recognise the signs of depression and ensuring that expert and evidence-based help is available.

My particular preoccupation when Secretary of State all those years ago was to achieve proper recognition and understanding of mental health and in particular to insist that it was part of the health of the nation strategy. I welcome the transforming programme being set out to assist young people with mental health problems, with a partnership between the NSPCC and schools. The Prime Minister said that every school should have someone who knows about mental health. Nelson Mandela said:

“There can be no keener revelation of society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.

I agree, and we have more to do.

Education and Society

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Excerpts
Friday 8th December 2017

(4 years, 1 month ago)

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Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Portrait Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone (Con)
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Once again, we are all greatly in the debt of the most reverend Primate. As with his words on British values last year, which many of us reflected on throughout the year, so today his words about education are deeply important at this moment. Speaking as someone whose three children—and six of our grandchildren—attended the same church primary school, I warmly applaud the work that faith schools do to create the citizens of tomorrow and the work that they do for the local community.

One hundred years ago, my grandfather wrote a book, Education and World Citizenship. He worked closely with the father of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and went on to found a series of programmes under the Council for Education in World Citizenship. This lies precisely at the heart of the issue that education is about not only skills and qualifications but preparing the citizens we need for tomorrow.

I would argue that over many decades we have deeply failed very intelligent children from impoverished backgrounds. My early professional years were spent in Brixton, Peckham and Bethnal Green, where children did not even take A-levels. Teaching reading and writing was described as imposing middle-class values on working-class children. A wonderful book produced by a team from the Maudsley, Fifteen Thousand Hours, showed that the dimmest, least-achieving children at one school did better than the most able children at a bad school. Sir Keith Joseph, my noble friend Lord Baker and many others in this House worked hard to improve the curriculum, achievements and teaching, and we have seen a dramatic change in the ability of young people to fulfil their potential, but it is still not enough.

I also applaud the most reverend Primate’s words about education being not only functionalist. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, whom I greatly admire, spoke only the other day about the importance of not reducing education to a functionalist level. She said that our job is,

“to prepare young people to succeed in life … broadening minds, enriching communities and advancing civilisation”.

If noble Lords come with me to the University of Hull—it was never going to be long before we got there—they will see on the main staircase a wonderful engraving with the words of Winston Churchill:

“Religion has been the rock in the life and character of the British people, upon which they have built their hopes and cast their cares”.

In today’s multicultural, multifaith world, this issue is more complex, but there is no institution better than the Church of England, and the words of the most reverend Primate, to lead us forward.

As the chancellor of the University of Hull, I speak with great pride of this anchor institution in an impoverished region. The university believes in transforming the individual as well as positively impacting society. It is place based in an area which in the past has had low aspirations and low achievement, but the university is globally engaged.

Last year, I invited the most reverend Primate to visit Hull during its year as the City of Culture. I do not think that he was able to fulfil that invitation, but I am delighted to say that two weeks ago the Queen came. She opened the new medical school and met all those involved in the City of Culture event. I say that as the news comes through that Coventry is to be the next City of Culture, and I know that the most reverend Primate has very close connections with that city. The ability of such things to give people hope, optimism and a sense of collaboration is quite remarkable.

The University of Hull trains doctors and nurses in a modern, patient-based, community-focused manner. It leads entrepreneurial activities and has pioneered environmental, maritime, renewable energy projects, bringing prosperity, skills, investment and success. The City of Culture status has given inspiration, encouragement and energy to the city and the individuals who live there. The university has a leading department on modern slavery. Last year, Kofi Annan came to speak there. Its campaign, “Hidden in Plain Sight”, tackles the current situation of modern slavery, focused on by the Prime Minister. It is place based but globally engaged, and it is a model to so many.

The most reverend Primate reminded us of the importance of teachers and head teachers. The head teacher is the closest thing to a magic wand in education, and I applaud all those new routes into education—Teach First, Now Teach and many others. There is no more important obligation than preparing the next generation.

When the House starts in another place, the prayer asks that we govern wisely and avoid “love of power” and “desire to please”. Research, innovation, the fourth industrial revolution and all the great achievements of our universities are important, but if we do not have the wisdom, the judgment and the moral basis to make decisions, we will be lost. At a time when democracy is fuelled by social media, soundbites and the short term, it is all the more important that we retain a moral compass, a faith-based approach and the principles of citizenship.